In Pursuit of Peace
29 Rain's Hand, 4E200
Folgunthur Crypts, Hjaalmarch
Farkas of the Companions
He'd had doubts about bringing the merc band along, at first; they were a rough-seeming bunch, all of them with that look in their eye. To the Dragoons, money was the first and last thing on their minds, when it came to business; what that business entailed, well, it could be anything. In Farkas' experience, most mercs weren't picky about the work they did.
So, at first glance, he'd had doubts; honestly, once he smelled them from afar, he had half a mind to ask Imp if she and the Chaurus could just bum-rush the camp and make his life a little easier. But there were two problems with that.
One: as efficient as a tactic it was, sending a wave of Chaurus at an entrenched enemy of unknown skill… didn't seem like something Khepri would appreciate.
He knew his lass, from their letters to each other; she had a sharp mind for tactics and strategy. If she were here, she'd just execute an elaborate and effective ambush, and that'd be the end of things. More than that, she cared about the Chaurus enough that she admitted, again in a letter, that she preferred using smaller, easily-replaced insects in combat; she didn't enjoy risking the Chaurus, because, to Khepri… each was like an eager-to-please child.
But she wasn't here, and Farkas wasn't a fool: he didn't think Imp had the focus to pull off what Khepri could, which was a perfectly-executed ambush, and risking the Chaurus while he sat back like a lazy ass… yeah, a frontal Chaurus assault was out of the question, easier though it would've been on him.
Bad enough, but the second problem made any direct assault moot.
The mercs weren't stupid.
If anything, his first impression was opposite the truth: they were the most professionally-behaved bunch of mercs Farkas had seen outside the Companions; oh, sure, he'd known there were other merc bands travelling all over Tamriel, but most of them were glorified bandits. Barely worth the name of warrior, they had no honor, no morals, and would sink as low as they liked if it meant coin.
The ones in front of him… the leader looked to be an older maybe half-Orc; tusks were shorter, and his jaw was a bit more Imperial than Orc. The hair on his head was shaved on the sides and pulled into a top-knot, sleek and black, and he was clean-shaven; strong too, if the way he moved in full Dwemer plate said anything. The Dunmer near him – his second-in-command, or maybe his wife – was likewise well-equipped and had that look of experience to her, despite wearing a glass set that was more grey than green, it was so old.
Every single one of the mercs was wearing decent armor; they were working on the barrow in organized shifts; there was always a group of lookouts, with overlapping fields of vision; one Dunmer mage stood out, but Farkas had seen a Redguard in heavy steel plate using Telekinesis to shift a cart-sized boulder – it'd winded the man, but Brelyna confessed she couldn't do the same, not without knocking herself out.
An assault wouldn't work; whoever the mercs' leader was, he didn't fool around with training or discipline, and none of the people with him looked green or unblooded.
So, Farkas decided to try honesty and diplomacy. It wasn't his strong suit, but if he went in first, that would give the Chaurus more time to encircle the camp, giving them an element of greater surprise in case things went sour. Some might die, but Farkas, Fairsi and Brelyna might survive.
However, his attempt at striking a deal with the mercs went better than expected; according to some notes left behind by the oddball wizard – who lost his head, in both senses, during peace talks – they were at the right barrow; the last fragment of the Gauldur Amulet was deep within. Even better, the loudmouth had the key to the barrow's inner sanctum with him: an ivory claw, carved from what must have been a massive mammoth tusk.
After only minor discussions on the matters of rank and salvage with the merc leaders, Dralom and Maren, and some brief digging by the Marsh Chaurus – who, according to Imp, would only send five Hunters into the barrow with them, and wanted everyone to leave the marshes once they were done; an easy bargain to make, though Farkas would've liked the Praetorian at his back, but it was too old for battle, moss hanging from its limbs – the door was cleared, the merc band kitted themselves and downed stamina potions, and down into the dark they went.
It became clear, almost immediately, that Folgunthur wasn't like Saarthal or Gerimund's Hall.
Saarthal was a city, an ancient crypt, the oldest necropolis in Skyrim.
Gerimund's Hall – Farkas had taken the chance and revisited it, with Mjoll, while they delivered a package from Blackreach to a Rift Hold nirnroot farmer – that barrow on the lake was a memorial, waterlogged and forgotten, and likely for the better.
Folgunthur was… something else.
Automatic traps. Swinging blades. Multiple places to use the claw. More difficult and well-equipped draugr the further they descended; one of the Dragoons, a Khajiit, was killed by a Deathlord hiding in an alcove, and two other mercs had to be left with one of the healers after a brutal fight in an expansive ritual chamber – relatedly, it was the first time Farkas had ever seen the draugr summon daedra. Specifically, a Dremora Kynreeve – easily handled – and a huge fucking daedroth.
Rather telling was how all the traps, all the draugr, and all they keys and levers were made with the express purpose of keeping something in, rather than out.
As the claw door slowly sank into the ground – why his ancestors put the combination on the key, he had no idea – Farkas grumbled aloud, "This place feels like a prison."
Dralom, who was leaning on his tower shield, watching the door's descent, grunted in agreement, "Noticed that too, didja? Ayleids made their prisons the same way. Some of 'em even used Varla Stones as keys, just to make it harder to get out."
"It makes sense, though," Brelyna muttered, leafing through the dead mage's notes, Fairsi and Imp looking over her shoulders, along with a few of the Dragoons. "Mikrul Gauldurson was apparently the strongest, physically, of the three brothers. Sigdis was the cleverest, and most skilled with magic, while Jyrik, the eldest, was the most influential and, probably, got special training with artifice."
"So, expect a bigger fight that what we've seen so far?" Maren asked as the door finally sank to the ground, the top of the seemingly-circular gate squared off so it'd look like part of the floor. At Brelyna's nod, the older Dunmer huffed and fell into line behind Dralom and two other shield-bearing Dragoons, "Could've just said that, saved us the speculation."
"Go easy," Farkas muttered as they began moving forward. "She's just nervous."
"Think we all are," Fairsi muttered, making a good point as the band headed down a tunnel that curved left, leading to a large double door. The lock was easily dealt with, and on the other side…
A huge, high-ceilinged chamber presented itself, buttresses holding up the distant, dark ceiling. The floor was wide and square, lined along the walls by sarcophagi. In the middle of the room was a larger and more ornate coffin, the whole floor area lit by mammoth fat candles and torches…
And two Deathlords, one holding an ebony axe, the other holding a bow, both with some kind of soul gem object stuck in their chests. For the moment, both were lifeless and unmoving, but Farkas had a real bad feeling about what he was seeing.
"Peters, Imago, put a couple arrows in those stiffs," Dralom grunted, eyeing the Deathlords just as grumpily as Farkas was.
The two mercs had just put arrows on their bows when the entire barrow shook, as though they were in a bell that had been whacked by a giant. Farkas was nearly thrown off his feet, while only a few of the others – Fairsi and Dralom among them – managed to stay upright; everyone else was tossed to the ground.
The tremor passed, sending rivers of millennia-old dust from the buttresses… and from the two Deathlords, their eyes filling with fell blue corpselight as their bodies jerked into motion with cracking sounds and deep growls.
"Shit!" Maren shouted as she got off the floor, drawing her knives and yelling at the archers and spellswords. "Shoot them! Shoot them! Somebody fire!"
Even as the first volleys went out – to be dodged by the awoken Deathlords – one by one, the standing sarcophagi around the walls busted open, revealing more draugr, all of them well-armored and armed to the teeth, rushing out into the room with growls and hisses of challenge. In the middle of their formation, the bow-wielding Deathlord snarled and- made two copies of himself.
"Ah, fuck, not this guy again." Farkas snarled in disgust while taking out two lesser draugr with one swipe, a foreboding feeling rising as the other Deathlord cackled and was covered in some kind of rainbow barrier.
"Again?!" Brelyna screeched, fire spells already joining the thickening rain of arrows and Chaurus spit keeping the approaching undead from overrunning the front line. "Fucking again?!"
"Friends of yours?" Dralom rumbled while smashing a hulking draugr's head in with his mace.
"Watch the one with the barrier; it stops certain kinds of damage!" Fairsi yelled while deflecting an arrow with his shield and lopping off a spear-wielding undead with his sword, the kid proving Farkas was right about him becoming a Shield-Brother of the Companions. "I don't recognize the other one. Farkas?"
"Asshole makes clones, and both he and them can use the Voice," Farkas punched a female Wight in the face before skewering her- and then the copy of Jyrik, that cheating bastard, was in front of him, swinging that ebony war axe a little too close for comfort; he smashed the fucker in the face with his pommel, which worked tons better than at Sarthaal, before yelling, "They're weaker than the originals! Take 'em out!"
And then Mehrunes Dagon stomped on the barrow.
Or, that's what it felt like; the quake, worse than last time, took everyone off their feet, Man, Mer, Beastfolk and draugr. Only the Chaurus Hunters were unaffected, with their wings keeping them in the air; with a trumpeting sound, Imp led her cousins in a volley of spit, one that took out the copy of Sigdis, the Deathlord screeching as his body melted.
"Clan-Mother's tits, what the Hells is doing that?!" that big cat, Za'ir, roared while hauling two of the other mercs to their feet before drawing that machete of his.
He was answered by the two-foot thick lid of the central sarcophagus getting sent flying off its home with a tremendous sound, like a hammer of Tsun beating upon a door; the lid did two flips and landed with a boom that rattled Farkas' bones and sent a shiver of terror through his body.
Out of the stone casket came the biggest draugr anyone present had likely ever seen, and easily the most menacing Farkas had ever even heard of; seven feet tall at least, it was covered in dragonbone armor from head to toe, and was holding a finned mace in one hand, with a head the size of Farkas' torso, and emitting an eerie red light. Orange embers glowed in its eyes, at odds with the usual ice-blue glow of other draugr; eyes that swept over the gathered mercs, mage, Companions, and Chaurus…
Before a deep chuckle rumbled from its chest, and it spoke in a fell voice, "Stin, ahst lingrah laat. Dreh Ni faas, joora, fah hi fen volaan dir, hin siln fen ofan zu'u suleyk."
Without any further ado, the risen corpse of Mikrul Gauldurson drew the ebony claymore at his hip like a longsword, red runes flaring down the fuller in a series of runes that burned spots into Farkas' eyes, before raising it into the air with a throaty roar.
There was a great red flash of light that half-blinded Farkas, though he got his sword between his eyes and the item before it could truly do so- a red mist rose off his body, pulled toward the draugr-
"STENDAAR, GUARD US!" one of the mercs' mages shouted, backing up the prayer with magic; the mist from Farkas' body and arms cut off as a silver sheen rippled over his skin and armor…
But, he realized, as he felt the heaviness of his armor and sword, gritting his teeth and forcing himself to stay upright, the damage was done; his strength had been sapped enough that he wouldn't be able to fight effectively. From the look of things, most of the other fighters had suffered the same fate, Fairsi dropping his shield so he could two-hand that longsword of his, sweating up a storm, while Dralom swore impressively…
Before the experienced Orc flipped a switch in his Dwemer tower shield; at the bottom, two spikes extended, anchoring the heavy bulwark to the floor as Dralom dropped it and two-handed his mace, roaring, "Bastard drained our strength!"
"Bright side, boss," called one of the mages breathlessly, "least he got all the draugr, too."
Rumbling in disgust, Farkas turned his hands so his sword would stick in the ground, and that's when he saw the state of the other draugr: with the exception of Mikrul, now encased in a corona of red light, the rest had fallen where they stood.
Frowning, and keeping his eyes on the chuckling Overlord, Farkas, started unbuckling his armor; it was too heavy to fight in, now.
Bad that Mikrul chose that moment to make their lives even worse, by Shouting.
Swinging his sword at the end of the Thu'um-enhanced dash, Mikrul hit Dralom's anchored tower shield, folded it in half where the blade struck, and sent it flying – Dralom ducked, missing death by a hair – to slam into one of the archers with sound like a hammer on meat, red mist spraying from the point of impact-
"Kill it!" Maren shrieked, flinging a knife while Farkas backed up in a panic.
Za'ir, who was armored lightly despite being a great hulking beast of a Khajiit, moved up to fill the Companion's spot with a challenging roar and swipe of his machete. A few arrows and cautious streams of Chaurus spit joined the fray, but Mikrul wasn't idle, dodging spit and laughing off blows while swinging that punishing blade of his in every direction…
While Farkas forced more and more of his armor plates off his body, Fairsi keeping close to make sure Mikrul's rampage didn't get close – one merc got skewered through the head before having his corpse tossed into Za'ir, knocking the Khajiit down while the draugr almost lazily swatted aside one of Dralom's questing blows – which Farkas was grateful for, as the fucking undead asshole probably would've taken advantage and cut him down while he was removing his armor.
"Can't believe I'm saying this, but I kinda wish we were fighting Jyrik again," Fairsi snarled while Farkas finally got his greaves off. He was now only clad in leather and a pair of boots… and he was kind of wishing he'd gotten a slightly bigger size of leather kit, as his didn't leave much to the imagination.
Whatever; he pulled his boot knife and threw it at Mikrul's head, stepping forward with a grimace and reclaiming his sword. He was light enough, now; it was time to finish this fight.
…on the other hand, he really wished he'd learned knife-throwing, as his knife had just bounced off the side of the fucking draugr's helmet, not doing a damn thing; with a snarl, and a swing at a Chaurus Hunter – who dodged back just in time – Mikrul turned to Farkas with a rumbling growl that made the stones beneath their feet tremble.
"Sahlo ol reyth, nuz hi krif, kiir," Mikrul sneered as he approached, drawing his sword back for a plunge, preparing to skewer Farkas.
"I have no idea what you said," Farkas growled back, "but I'm gonna kick your ass anyway."
He turned aside the thrust with his owns sword and threw a punch into Mikrul's side, where the dragonbone provided less protection.
It felt like he'd just punched the Skyforge; two fingers broken, at least.
Fairsi jumped in, distracting Mikrul with some sword blows long enough for… Imp, who slipped around Dralom with one of Maren's knives in her mouth; that beautiful big bug slashed the back of Mikrul's left knee, unbalancing the draugr lord, who let out a cry of pain.
Dralom attempted to take the bastard down with an overhand strike of his mace, while Farkas went for a stab as Fairsi was knocked back.
Mikrul parried Farkas' strike with one hand and almost took his head off with a counterattack; meanwhile, the bastard draugr caught Dralom's mace, tanking the lightning enchantment, crushing the head of the mace, and following that up with a punch that sent the merc leader to the ground.
Maren shrieked in rage, sending two glass knives at Mikrul; she may as well have sent water at him, for all the good they did against dragonbone. Furious, the Dunmer woman – and half the other mages, including Brelyna – launched fire attacks at Mikrul…
Who laughed, and held up one hand; the incoming spells swirled into a single point on his palm, the son of Archmage Gauldur commandeering the flames sent to kill him. He probably would've sent them back at the mages, if about four Chaurus Hunters hadn't chosen that moment to spit on his hand and face.
Screaming in rage and pain as his eyes boiled, Mikrul blanketed the area in fire; Maren had managed to get Dralom, who was hopefully only unconscious, away before the fire reached them, almost everyone else backing off.
Except Farkas, who waded in, rolling under a stream of flame and striking his stalhrim sword at Mikrul's sword hand, cutting into it but not managing to get it all the way through before the undead jerked away; he'd still managed to cripple the hand-
Not that it stopped the draugr from lifting the blade high, ready to strike Farkas down; he'd left himself open.
Farkas realized he'd just broken his promise to Khepri when Mikrul's arm fell… and didn't kill Farkas.
"Unslaad…" Mikrul muttered in disbelief, staring at the stump of his right arm, ending right at the wrist. Farkas stared at it too, before-
-he looked up, spotting Imp, clinging to the side of a pillar, with Mikrul Gauldurson's hand, plus sword, held in her razor-sharp mandibles.
Farkas resolved to get that Chaurus a whole snowberry field, as he turned a vengeful grin on Mikrul; it was said the draugr didn't feel fear, but what Farkas saw on the bastard's face could've passed for it.
It was still a tough fight, after that, the draugr Overlord taking a good bit of time falling to blades and spells from every side, including a surprise ice spike from Dralom, who'd woken up with half his face broken and his favorite armaments destroyed beyond repair. During that last melee, the last of the Gauldursons managed to hit Farkas in the jaw with a blade of red magic, which he replied to by brutally lopping one of the bastard's arms off.
It was Fairsi who dealt the killing blow, stabbing under the Overlord's helm with his sword before, with a valiant and strained cry, lopping its head of with a clearly-exhausted swipe.
The dragonbone-clad body staggered, began to lift its remaining arm, and toppled backwards to the ground; the head landed some meters away, the orange light fading to reveal a skull burned by Chaurus venom. From the cuirass' neck region, a small chit of gold tumbled, attached to an ancient piece of leather cord that'd been partially eaten by acid.
So ended Mikrul Gauldurson, strongest of the three traitor brothers who'd killed their father for power.
Farkas didn't much care, as his jaw was hurting like a bitch; indeed, it seemed like everyone had gotten one injury or another in Mikrul's last stand. Brelyna still managed to heal it, but it would leave a scar; while Farkas knew it might, as magic was known to leave lasting scars, he was also worried about what Khepri might think…
"Getting too old for this shit," Dralom grunted while Maren helped him up. To that big Khajiit, Za'ir, the half-Orc asked, "Hey, Za'ir; feel like running the Dragoons?"
"Err…" the big cat looked around at the others; they seemed supportive, so he shrugged at his boss, "Sure. But, what're you going to do?"
"You let me worry about that," Maren snapped, before saying more softly to Dralom, hands on his shoulders in an intimate gesture, "Where you go, I go; that's been the way it is for as long as I can remember."
Dralom chuckled, putting his forehead to hers, "Wouldn't have it any other way." To that, there were more than a few tired cheers from the Dragoons; despite their losses, that was indeed one hell of a way to end a career as a mercenary leader. Few had the luxury to retire, after all…
And Farkas couldn't help but feel a sense of familiarity with the scene, knowing what that chuckle meant, how it felt to know the way Dralom must feel about Maren. They… looked like they were in love…
In spite of hearing the Hunting Grounds in his dreams, and all else he felt was holding him back, Farkas loved Khepri, and he knew she loved him just as much.
But… the most recent adventure had been too close; even with his opponent literally disarmed and surrounded, Farkas had nearly been killed. All for a wedding gift, a symbol of his commitment to loving his (hopefully) soon-to-be wife...
A gold shimmer appeared in the air near Mikrul's corpse, causing everyone to go on guard again. Farkas, who was closest – he'd been about to collect the last fragment – tensed and readied his weapon…
The gold mist resolved into a robed, bearded figure, face hidden beneath the deep shadows cast by the hood of an Arch-Mage; silently, the figure uncrossed his arms and extended his hands… causing the Amulet fragment of Mikrul's to rise into the air, surrounded by a halo of gold.
Feeling a rustling in his trouser pocket, Farkas was startled to see the other two fragments he'd found jump out and join the third, orbiting each other in the gold figure's cupped hands. Closing them around the fragments, the ghost whispered something Farkas' ears didn't catch… before opening his hands again, revealing the Gauldur Amulent, whole once more.
Shocked beyond all belief, Farkas numbly took the small, gleaming rectangle of what looked like – and felt like – a piece of sunrise, caged in gold. Looking up, he met the face of the figure, who bowed-
"For putting my sons to rest, I, Gauldur, thank thee, son of Ysgramor."
-and, with those quiet parting words, vanished in a ripple of glittering light.
In the apparition's wake, all was silent, no one wanting to comment on how a long-dead Arch-Mage had just… did that.
Dismissing it – he could have a nice panic attack once he was nice and safe and very drunk in Jorrvaskr – Farkas examined the trophy in his hand, along with Brelyna, Fairsi, and Imp…
While it was quite pretty, that didn't stop Farkas from groaning with irritation, "Damnit."
"What?" Fairsi asked, "You got what you wanted, so what's wrong?"
"Friggin Arch-Mage didn't restore the necklace." There was just the amulet itself, and a ring at the top for attaching a leather cord or chain. "Now I gotta go to a fuckin' jeweler's."
Next to him, Imp chittered and tapped one of her bags, which jingled with plundered loot.
Grinning, Brelyna turned from Imp to Farkas, "I don't think that'll be a problem."
3 Second Seed, 4E200
Khepri's Kitchen and Brewery, Whiterun Hold
Khepri the Beekeeper
Renovating the former Honningbrew Meadery was easier than I'd initially expected; there were already warm, damp caves under the building, so my Chaurus had a ready-made den; the building itself was sturdy and well-made, though in my opinion it could use a coat of paint… perhaps some small murals were in order; and the apparatus for making mead had come with my purchase of the Meadery, all six of the vats large enough to make hundreds, if not thousands, of bottles with each batch of mead, so I was finally able to begin considering commercial endeavors.
About the only wrinkle was converting part of the ground floor, particularly a storage area behind the bar, into a kitchen worthy of any roadside inn; that necessitated ripping up most of the floor and replacing it with polished pink granite… which, for some reason, Whiterun had so much of I was able to cover the floors of my new business in it, for only 20 Septims at that, and left me enough in the budget to add an archaic heating system so the floors would be warm, so long as a fire was kept lit.
The kitchen itself still needed stoves, the oven, and a cooking spit – currently in pieces on three carts behind the brewhouse – installed, which would be getting done by a professional crew from Dawnstar over the next four days.
There was also the issue of the rooms on the ground floor; apparently, the place used to be an inn before it was converted to a meadery; in spite of Callidus' many good points, I was rather disinclined to opening an actual inn. Given its position, however, several Imperial miles from Whiterun's outer gates, the rooms could serve as a hostelry for adventurers or traders who needed an inexpensive place to stay and freshen up before entering the city…
But that would mean moving into Whiterun Hold on a semi-permanent basis, and despite the grounds of my Brewery having a small apple orchard and a sizeable barn on the east side of the building, Heljarchen Hall was my home. It was where I planned to spend the rest of my days, researching the insects of Tamriel, keeping my body in shape – as the world was still filled with idiots with more balls than sense – and, gods willing, raising my children.
Still, the grounds of my Brewery were quite tempting, and there was more than enough space to set up an apiary, with my map of the lot saying it would be trivial to build a perimeter fence and still have plenty of breathing room.
Something of my musings must've shown on my face, as Callidus – who had come down from Whiterun to advise me on setting up supply lines for the kitchen side of my business – my steward spoke up, as I considered the nearby orchard, the both of us sitting outside as the interior still smelt a bit of fresh mortar and cordite.
"Considering making a third move, miss?" Callidus asked with a smile; I had noticed, since his wedding and the announcement of his coming child, my steward was in very high spirits. I wondered… would I be the same way?
Dismissing the blissful thought, I answered my steward with a small smile, "Hardly, though I can't say it's not tempting," after a pause, examining the brewery with my swarm, I added, "There's even a master suite above the west wing storage area, with an actual bath."
"An addition made by the previous owner, I believe," Cal informed me airily, subtly sliding an envelope my way. "When the movers cleared out whatever belongings he had that weren't seized by Balgruuf, they found this letter hidden on a rafter in that very suite."
"Most people don't look up often," I muttered, the saying almost feeling like an old proverb, an artifact from my previous life; nevertheless, I took up the letter and scanned it briefly… my good mood evaporating as I finished and crumpled the paper with a sour frown. "Maven Black-Briar."
Cal nodded, leaning back in his chair with a light sigh, lidded eyes taking in the orchard, barn, and my Chaurus, who were using their sharp claws to carefully prepare wood posts for the perimeter fence, "I may not have been your steward at the time, miss, but I saw you from afar. You're a threat to the honey monopoly of the Rift, there's no doubting that, but a little business competition never hurt anyone."
"My thoughts are alike to yours, as usual," I grumbled, still… feeling several emotions. There was disgust, irritation, some shock, and no small amount of disbelief, once my mind digested the information on the letter, which I exchanged in my hand for a cup of tea. "So, either she hired the Ghostbeards, or she knows who did, and didn't think I'd ever find out."
"The owner of Honningbrew didn't try exchanging the information for his life?"
"In front of Jarl Balgruuf? I seriously doubt it… and come to think of it," yes, the timing was too coincidental, "how much to you want to bet she hired the Dark Brotherhood as well?"
Cal's eyebrows lifted slightly, "I wouldn't bother betting. There's been rumors of Black-Briar's dealings with them for years; and you know what they say about rumors: the more who tell it exactly the same, the closer it is to the truth."
"Unless proven otherwise by a reputable source, but yes, I see your point. And, damnit, I have to go to the Rift personally, to pick up that beef order in Ivarstead," I sighed as Cal patted my shoulder; leaning back in my own chair, I lost myself for a moment in the Hive Mind.
Skitter had dug a hole in the nearby forest, so she could access the den under the Brewery without being seen, and was positively [delighted] at being able to fit into an underground den once more. Amy and Sophia had gone up into the hills, but were returning with some beehives, [pride] shining from their minds. Judas' itching was getting progressively worse as the days rolled on, but not enough to create more than mild [irritation] from him, in the present; there was still plenty of time before he became a Praetorian. As for the youngest Chaurus Hunter, Regent, he was tasked with helping clean the barn alongside Bentley and Twinkie, a task they were all [enjoying].
Ah, if only I had them in my old life; how much easier would my trials have been? How much more happiness could I have attained?
My eyes flew open, and I looked toward the road, as did nearly every other Chaurus, "Imp?"
Callidus, who'd been gathering his papers, looked up at me, "Oh? That must mean Farkas is back too."
"He is," I said breathlessly- ah, when did I stand up? Was I presentable? My hair was in a braid again, clasped with a bronze and jade buckle that matched my current tunic and boots; yes, I'd pressed the outfit last night, and no new wrinkles had appeared since. But what of my breath? I'd tasted the most recent microbrew of mead – a spicy sample that used dragon's tongue honey – and that had been a little over an hour ago- wait, I was just drinking tea-
"I'll be inside if you need me, miss."
"Huh- Oh! Yes, of course. We'll go over the last few expenses tomorrow," I waved goodbye to Cal, and then all my attention was on my sneakiest girl, as she bounded up to me repeating [Queen!] [victory!] [Queen!], expressing how much she missed me, and the… rather alarming battle against a risen Draugr Overlord under the swamps of Hjaalmarch, and that wasn't counting…
A new voice was added to the Hive Mind, one that was cautiously approaching, only lightly opening… her… mind to [us]. She was in the orchard, had snuck around just as effectively as Imp; through her eyes, I saw Farkas dithering behind a tree. Was he rehearsing something?
Nevermind; I smiled at the newcomer and beckoned with [welcome] in my mind and heart, "It's okay, don't be shy." I pulled out a handful of wood shavings and dried snowberries, before scattering them on the ground. Imp, of course, dived into the food immediately, sending an [invitation] to the new… oh my.
The newcomer edged out into the light and approached, slowly, her chitin plates larger about the shoulders and back legs, but also a little thinner where they fanned out like pieces of platemail. More interestingly, her eyes were a little different from the Chaurus I had already seen, and even more fascinating was how her chitin shifted to match the colors of the world around her, acting as a sort of active camouflage.
"Oooh~, aren't you beautiful?" I cooed, bending on one knee to beckon to her with a hand; drawn by the wood shavings, and the smell of me, the Chaurus Hunter scuttled closer with no small [curiosity] in her thoughts. She was a little overwhelmed, too, as the rest of my Herd were bombarding her with [hellos] and [welcomes]. Laughing, I said aloud, with [authority], "Okay, everyone. Give our new friend some time to settle in."
[Queen] Imp said anyway, indicating me with a claw, but the concept of what she said… it was… staggering. It took all my deeds, from Frostfall to present, including the emotions involved, both mine and the Chaurus', and put it all into a single thought-word.
Was that how the Chaurus saw me?
The new Hunter opened her mind to me fully, saying [identity] to me; like most Chaurus, she had no name, but identified herself as, basically, "The One Who Watches For Intruders and Punishes Them". She came from the marshes of Hjaalmarch – there was a whole colony of Chaurus, just like her, living there, living on the surface! And there was an old Praetorian with them! How exciting! – and followed Imp back to pledge her service to me, to join the Herd.
"I'm…" goodness, that was a lot in a short period of time; collecting myself quickly, I told the young Hunter warmly, "You're more than welcome to stay, as long as you wish, but… all Hunters in the Herd have a name; would you like one?"
[agreement!] she tossed her head and shivered her wings with excitement; in her eyes, and in the eyes of all the Marsh Chaurus, having a name marked one as a guardian of the [Queen], the highest honor their minds could comprehend. And the one before me… she had a lot of pep, and was almost like a ghost in the way she could stealth around…
"How does… Ghost Pepper sound?" a chirrup of [happiness] came out of Ghost Pepper, and Imp danced around her in [delight] an act I soon had to make room for as the other Hunters came over to celebrate a new [cousin] in the Herd.
Laughing, I looked up as Farkas approached, a quirk of a smile on his face… which he'd shaved. Indeed, he cleaned up very well, and that burgundy/gold fitted outfit he was wearing, which exposed his collarbone and the beginnings of that big, hairy chest…
No; down, Khepri. Not in broad daylight.
Remembering what Imp told me about Folgunthur, I crossed my flesh arm with the prosthetic and raised an eyebrow, "I thought you said, 'no more thousand-year-old terrors that could kill me in one hit'?"
Imp chittered a laugh while my man glared at her, the little troll.
"Didn't expect the bastard to pull some bullshit like that," Farkas muttered, grimacing- and was that a scar on his jaw?!
"I hope mucking about in all those dusty ruins was worth it." I said icily; all I knew was that he was searching for something, but what, and why? Those were mysteries to me; I didn't much like being kept in suspen-
Farkas cleared his throat, took a deep breath, and looked me in the eye as he replied, "Here in Skyrim, when… two people wanna get hitched, it's an old tradition that one gets a gift of intent for the other."
…has my heart stopped? Was this really happening?
"When I was deliverin' those pots of honey for you, I ran across this really powerful draugr, just outside Ivarstead; it probably would've killed me, if not for… well, me being a Werewolf. Anyway, it had a fragment of a gold amulet around its neck; after askin' the Greybeards and rootin' around the library in Jorrvaskr, I found out what it was: a piece of the Gauldur Amulet, an artifact from the First Era."
That was all very fascinating, but what did it have to do with this 'gift of intent' thing he was talking-?
"It was made by Arch-Mage Gauldur, the greatest Mage in Skyrim since Shalidor… but his sons, envious of the power it gave him, killed him in his bed, broke the Amulet, and terrorized Skyrim for years before the High King and the College put them down, sealing each of the traitors in tombs: one on Lake Geir, one in Saarthal-"
"And one in Folgunthur," I finished in a whisper; had he… for me?
Farkas nodded, his lips firming – pulling at that scar on his jaw – and drawing a silver chain from his vest's pocket.
And my breath was taken away.
It was the light of Magnus, rising, caged in gold; a series of Dragon Glyphs, spelling Skyrim, was written on the flat of the golden tag hanging from a simple silver chain; two sapphires decorated the chain, on either side of the amulet… but how had mortal hands reforged something like-
[ghost] Imp showed me… a Shade of Sovngarde, Arch-Mage Gauldur I presumed, remaking the Amulet…
"I just got back from showing it to Kodlak, as well as telling him I might be taking some time away from the Companions… depending on your answer." His cheeks colored and he shifted from foot-to-foot, hesitating.
"My answer?" I whispered- oh, and I needed to stop gaping like a damn fish! Composure, Khepri! Gathering myself, I asked in a high voice, "My answer to what?"
In reply, Farkas firmed his stance, held up the Amulet, and said, "This is the Gauldur Amulet, taken from his sons, all of whom I laid low at my feet." His gaze softened, "…I would put it around your neck on our wedding day."
…yeeeep, my heart stopped. Was I ready? Were all my plans far enough that I could-?
I laughed, a real, full smile lighting up my face for what felt like the first time in a long, long time, "I… would very much like that."
Farkas blinked, clearly just as surprised as I was for some reason, "R-Really?"
"You didn't really have to fight some undead shitheads from the First Era, but… yes, Farkas, I would absolutely love to have you put that around my neck… on our w-wedding day." I promised him, my smile so powerful even HE wouldn't have been able to destroy it.
"O-Oh, uh… great," Farkas laughed, putting the Amulet back in his pocket and sheepishly rubbing his neck, "Sorry about all the, y'know, flowery bullshit."
I blushed brightly, but at the moment I didn't care who saw, because hell yes Khepri is getting married boo-yah! "Well, I do appreciate being treated like a princess, though I wouldn't make it a habit."
"Don't think I could keep that up for long without cracking up." Farkas admitted, now much more relaxed.
We stood there – with me studiously ignoring the resounding [JOY] the entire Hive Mind exploded with, from Blackreach to the Brewery, when Farkas popped the question – both of us awkwardly shifting and shuffling until I worked up the courage to ask.
"So… what now?"
"Um," Farkas' brow furrowed in thought, "Well, we go to a temple of Mara-"
"I would sooner piss glass than enter the city Maven Black-Briar lives in," I told my fiancé – ohDibellaandKyneI'MGETTINGMARRIED – with an absolutely flat tone.
He jerked back at my clear venom, face folding into an angry scowl, "Fuck did she do to you?"
I waved a hand, sighing, "I'll… tell you over mead. We have something else to discuss right now. What about the temple of Kynareth?"
"Nah, has to be Mara; marriage is her province, and you don't wanna piss the Divines off about that sorta thing." While I swore under my breath, Farkas pointed out, "Well, there's always the Temple of the One, in Solitude."
"Hmm…" that… was a good idea, but, "There might be problems with reserving it… oh, when should we do it?"
"I was thinkin' Mid Year Day. I mean, if you're not bus- mm."
He shut up as I kissed him. Marrying the man I love and snubbing the Thalmor at the same time, on the same day, on top of all-but spitting in Black-Briar's face – because her assassination attempts had cost her the marriage between a Thane of Skyrim and a Champion of Tamriel happening in her city.
The reasons I loved this man grew by the day, and something told me they might never stop… and I was perfectly fine with that.
Breaking the kiss, I muttered, "One of my mead barrels was just bottled. Celebrate at my new bar and kitchen?"
"Sounds great," he said back with a big smile on his face, one hand on my waist as we walked to the Brewery, my left arm around his back. Nothing could get me down now… in fact, I mused as my grin turned slightly evil, I knew a way to make the day even better.
4 Second Seed, 4E200
Thalmor Embassy, Haafingar
First Ambassador Elenwen
Elenwen was just tidying up her desk for the evening, in generally good spirits; she'd managed to acquire an unpopular but very professional mercenary group, the Silver Hand, who would be slowly brought into Skyrim over the next few months. They'd finally picked up the trail of Esbern, the Blade Elder who got away, while it had been simplicity itself to insert a Thalmor spy into that idiot Delphine's little village of Riverwood. All across the map – with the exception of Khepri's expanding business – everything was smooth sailing for Skyrim's Embassy.
To wit, Elenwen figured she'd treat herself for the evening, and what better way than to spend it with Bathes – who was currently in the corner of her office, sharpening a knife – a bottle of Surille's finest, and some expensive and, ha~, erotically-shaped chocolates she'd been saving for the warmer months.
It was going to be a very good night, for Elen-
A messenger appeared in the hallway, bowing outside her open door before entering, "A missive, Your Grace."
Sighing, Elenwen held out a hand, "Give it here, Merandil." After checking it briefly for traps, Elenwen opened the letter, which was only addressed to her… with the seal of a Skyrim Thane on the wax. Khepri, then.
Curiosity… cautiously piqued, Elenwen unfolded the letter and read.
First Ambassador Elenwen,
I hope this letter finds you in good health and happiness, and I would like to add, in opening, that I have much appreciated the lovely dining room set you sent me to commemorate the victorious Muster. On that note, I do hope Olquar is recovering well from his wounds. Please, give him my regards once more for his selfless actions.
Onto the reason I am writing you this day, and why I included the above to soften the blow I must, regrettably, deliver: it is with a, I admit shamelessly, joyous heart that I must cancel my reservation for your Mid Year Day party at the Embassy.
While I am certain it will be a wonderful event, another matter has come up that necessitates this informing you of my desire to cancel. It is no small matter, I assure you; to cancel now, when I'm sure you've already prepared for my stay at your lovely establishment, would require no less than a major shift of fortunes on my part.
That is indeed the case, for it is with the utmost delight that I say the man who has been courting me, Farkas – you may have heard of him; he's a Companion in good standing, and a Champion of Tamriel – has asked for my hand in holy matrimony!
Indeed, there are no words that express my true joy on this matter. However, sadly for my prior arrangement with you, Ambassador, we have decided to have our wedding on Mid Year Day, which as I understand is a popular day for marriage, as well as a holy day dedicated to all the Divines. The venue is yet to be decided, but I'm sure you'll hear about it once the invitations go out.
Again, my deepest apologies for such a sudden cancellation, and I hope your party goes well despite my absence.
Khepri the Beekeeper
Thane of Skyrim
Queen of the Chaurus
"Ah, Your Grace?"
Elenwen lifted her eyes from the paper in her hands – which she was restraining herself from setting aflame – and asked the messenger, "What is it?"
He cleared his throat, "Err, well, it's just… you usually tip, and there's a new drink debuting tonight at the Winking Skee-"
That was as far as Merandil got before Elenwen skewered him with an Ice Spear and nailed him to the wall out in the hallway, both the guards out there stiffening in fear as the First Ambassador shrieked in rage and started tearing up the letter she just received.
"THAT UP-HERSELF, BUG-FUCKING, SCRAWNY MORTAL BITCH!"
A Thane of Skyrim, and a Champion of Tamriel, getting married on a popular holy day, the same day Elenwen's biggest party of the summer was held; Elenwen would be lucky if anyone showed up, once the invitations went out. This was a disaster, and she couldn't even do anything about it, because Khepri had scared the Dark Brotherhood so badly, they were refusing every contract on the Beekeeper, even those who lived in Weynon Glades or were vaguely acquainted with the vexing bitch!
So, Elenwen screamed and ranted and raged, while Bathes made herself as small and insignificant as she could, until her lover calmed down, and the guards pretended not to hear anything. None of them had gotten their positions by being stupid and drawing attention to themselves, after all.
Woof, that was fun to write! Sorry if the fight was a little lackluster, it's kinda boring writing battles in a story that's supposed to be focusing on everything but fights. In fact, next chapter will be quite lewd, as the teaser title below shall elucidate.
Happily, the next bushel of chapters will have very little battles with moldy undead… and will involve a little more corporate murder and sabotage, as Khepri has finally discovered Maven's attempts on her life. Oh, poor Black-Briar; she went and done Skitter-ed herself, lmao.
Sorry, there won't be any reviewer responses this time around (super duper busy this past month). If you have questions, bear in mind that this story is also posted on Questionable Questing, where most of my writing ends up these days (including my dedicated snippet thread). I respond much faster over there.
Thank you all, again, for your support, and I'll see you next time. Speaking of which~…
Next Time: A Roll in the Hay